Friday, December 30, 2011

Mismark Case Study: Labrador Retriever

A gaggle of Labradors showing all three acceptable colors: black, chocolate, and yellow. Yellow can be in any shade of the red spectrum, from near-white to deep red. Chocolate can also vary. Image is from under a Creative Commons license.
Ebon is black with hints of red
Labradors, year after year recently, have been the AKC's most-registered breed. They are incredibly popular pet, and are also used for numerous working purposes, including hunting, tracking, and as service dogs. As those who read my blog regularly know, I myself have a Labrador, and he's a mismark to boot, though it's more subtle than most. The breed actually has a great number of mismarks that are seen:

  • Too much white
    • Anything more than a small amount on the chest isn't allowed
  • Tan points
    • In either black or chocolate dogs
  • Brindle points
    • In either black or chocolate dogs
  • Improper pigmentation
    • Where a yellow has a liver nose
  • Silver (controversial)
    • The blue dilution. Variations include "silver" (dilute chocolate, aka fawn/Isabella), "charcoal" (dilute black, aka blue), and "champagne" (yellow with a blue or fawn nose)

This yellow Labrador has a brown nose
Thanks to the restrictions provided by the standard,  Labs will usually be bred using color classes. Blacks are bred to chocolates and yellows are bred to blacks, but chocolates will rarely be bred to yellows. This is thanks to the fact that a brown nose on a yellow is not just frowned upon, but will actually disqualify a dog from showing. Usually, breeding chocolate to yellow is only done by those who breed their dogs for working ability rather than conformation. As such, brown-nosed yellows are most commonly seen in the more lightly built field-type Labradors and are rarely seen in the more heavily build show-type Labradors. As is so often the case, breeders of working lines could generally care less what the breed standard has to say as long as the dog can perform the required job.

This Labrador has too much white
One unacceptable appearance that constantly pops up in litters is too much white. Residual white happens all of the time in dogs that are genetically solid in color, which is why the mismark is present in every single breed out there that isn't supposed to have any white whatsoever. In Labradors, this is most often only a chest patch, but more extensive white can occur, spreading up the neck or appearing on the toes. The St. Johns water dog, a major ancestor of the Lab, had this amount of white as a standard occurrence. It seems odd to me that it is now considered unacceptable in the descendents. Interestingly enough, Bolo spots (white patches on the underside of the paws that are generally not visible when the dog is standing) are allowed.

This Labrador has tan points
Two mismarks that have been around for basically as long as the Labrador has been a breed are black and tan and black and brindle. Most Labs are dominant black (even chocolates and yellows) and dominant black can easily hide the recessives brindle and non-black/brindle that both allow the Agouti locus to show through. As such, two dogs carrying these recessives can easily produce black and tan or black and brindle puppies. Also, since the genes are recessive, carries aren't obvious until they throw a mismark. Even with selection, the colors simply aren't going to go away. In addition, there are other dogs like my Ebon with just a hint of red that may be very minimal black and tan and may go completely unnoticed, all depending on the amount of red that is distinguishable.

This Labrador is silver
Silver is a highly controversial color in the breed, thanks in part to the suspicion that the color was introduced through crossing with a Weimeraner. Whether it was that or a mutation: the color exists. Unlike a very large amount of people familiar with the breed, I don't really have much of an issue with silver existing in Labradors. However, I do disapprove of the breeding practices going into producing silver dogs, as well as the "charcoals" and "champagnes." It's inbreeding, pure and simple. It's a classic story: one or two dogs show up that are a desired color. Breeder wants to make more of that color and inbreeds like mad to produce a bunch of dogs that are the desired color. The blue dilution is recessive, and as such inbreeding is the only way to ensure the production of the color. This would be done through either only mating dogs that express the desired color or only matings dogs who are known to carry the color (and are thus related to that original population). Also, most silver breeders brag about their ability to produce litters that are guaranteed to have silvers and will charge heavy prices for the puppies of the desired silver color. There is usually no mention of the heavy inbreeding required to make the color possible. This is ridiculous, and does not bode well for dogs as all these people likely care about is profit.

Another practice I do not approve of when it comes to "silver" in Labradors is the mislabeling of colors. The AKC has advised breeders to register silver dogs as chocolate, when it fact the two colors are quite different. Silver, unlike chocolate, requires an additional gene for the color to be expressed. They also look quite different, with chocolate looking like, well, chocolate and silver looking like ash. The parent club doesn't support the practice of mislabeling, and neither do I. The two are different colors and should be identified as such. I hold the same position about all other breeds.

The Labrador retriever was originally meant to be a working dog: able to run and swim easily to go retrieve birds without breaking a feather. As such, color should not be a factor deciding what the breed should be. A dog with tan points is just as capable of retrieving a bird as a solid black one. If modern show breeds want to maintain that their dogs are still just as capable, why care about color? Why not stay true to what the breed once was? As I keep emphasizing, genetic diversity is of serious concern in purebred dogs. By disallowing certain colors, standards are only eliminating more and more diversity from the breed. Breeding for two separate types (show or "English" and field or "American") doesn't help either.


  1. I think silvers should be their own breed, which should be called the silver retriever. We already have a golden retriever that was created on the basis of color alone, why not a silver one?

    I think the origin of the silvers is through crossbreeding Chesapeakes with Labradors that went on well into the twentieth century, and it may have clandestinely continued on for even longer than that.

    They have found no Weimaraner markers with the silver Labs. If Chessie were the source, it would be very similar to Labrador.

    Silver Chessies are called ash Chessies. They look just like silver Labs, which are almost always from American working type Labrador stock. I've never seen an English Lab that had the silver color.

    This dilution factor may have been in the St. John's water dog breed from the beginning because there are gray Newfoundlands and beige Newfoundlands, which correspond perfectly to the genotypes associated with silver and charcoal Labradors.

    I don't see the silver Labradors getting anywhere within the Labrador breed, but if they split off and developed a breeding program that involved crossbreeding with beige Newfoundlands, ash Chessies, and maybe Weimaraners. They actually might found another retriever breed.

    1. Actually there have been hundreds of genetic DNA tests done on silver and there sure ARE weim Dna in some of them. You can not group them as a whole like that as you simple dont have all the information!!

  2. I don't find yellow dogs with dudley or blue noses all that attractive. I'm glad that in golden retrievers the brown-skinned gene is very rare, and that form of dilution doesn't exist.

    1. I have one and I think he is beautiful. Not so generic looking, unique if you will. However I couldn't care less that he is not of show quality he is my baby and a spoild house dog who I plan on training for agility just to give him something to do that burns energy.

    2. I have a yellow dudley lab with the "brown nose" and yellow eyes. People always comment on how beautiful he is.

  3. That is a very good theory on the origin of the color, and does make more sense to me than the Weim cross theory since the retrievers were all interbred at one point. Despite the fact that there is a lot of similarity in build between working-type Labs and pointers that many people use for support in the Weim cross theory.

    If there was an attempt to create a new breed out of it, I don't know that the breeders would be willing to outcross. If they did, it would be a very viable option and could potentially produce a breed with pretty healthy genetic diversity. However, history doesn't seem to support the practice. I'm thinking mainly of the white shepherd and other such variations that came from a breed that already existed. If they did break off and breed only from the current stock of silvers, charcoals, and champagnes, the breed wouldn't turn out nearly as healthy.

    When it comes to the diluted yellow, I do prefer the ones with darker pigment. Brown and blue can both be quite dark. However, I find some charm in the self-colored appearance in the paler ones. I just find all of the colors of all dogs to nice, which is part of the reason I think "mismarks" are silly.

  4. Chesapeake Bay retrievers are pretty diverse. They are actually a composite of three different retriever breeds that were living in Maryland and other Mid-Atlantic state at the time. There was a breed called a red Winchester that was absorbed into the Chesapeake Bay breed, which included a smooth breed called otter and curly-coated strain that is now extinct.

    I don't know if these people would be willing to cross but if a movement were started to form their own breed, they could do it.

    The yellow Labrador almost became a breed, too, because they couldn't win against blacks or were put up against golden retrievrs. In the UK there is still a Yellow Labrador Club.

    The golden retriever is a pretty diverse breed-- if we look at the breed as a whole-- and it was entirely created because it was of a color that couldn't win and was held in contempt by the official breed club.

    What they'd have to do is create a diverse bloodline using the silver color. In goldens this was done by breeding to the then relatively numerous black wavy/flat-coated retriever strains.

    So they'd have to outcross to ash Chessies and use chocolate Labs to really establish a breeding population that could exist.

    It definitely could be done. The golden retriever started with only a single dog with this coat color and it's fairly diverse as a breed, though Balkanized around specialist lines.

  5. I really didn't know much of anything about the history of Chessies. Quite interesting. I also didn't know they tried to create a breed out of the yellow Labs.

    I can only hope that if they go decide to create a breed out of it that they keep diversity in mind. But again, what's happening now with other breeds being created based on color does not bode well for the health of the new breeds. For example, panda shepherds are only being bred to German shepherds. Eventually, when there's enough pandas to make a completely separate breed feasible they'll even stop that. Same with Biewer yorkies, etc. etc.

  6. Honestly, I think most of these lab "mismarks" are prettier than the officially sanctioned colors. I don't think people should go out of there way to breed them so that they can pass them off as "rare," but they really should just be accepted as examples of variation in the lab breeding pool.

    Same with with white and panda shepherds. They're no different from "proper" shepherds outside of color, so they shouldn't be treated as separate entities.

    1. I agree, but unfortunately the majority of breeders, especially the ones that are heavily into showing, will balk at the thought of producing a mismark. I've herd such things as a poodle breeder being "appalled" when a sable puppy turned up in a litter. A Labrador breeder being accused of mixed breeding after producing a tan pointed puppy. Someone into showing German shepherds saying she "would cry" if one of her dogs produced a panda. On the other end of the spectrum are the breeders that feed off of public ignorance and sell mismark puppies at ridiculous prices, often inbreeding like crazy to produce as many of these pups as possible. Both sides have serious priority issues.

    2. ...the HELL? I knew the mindset of show breeders tends to be warped is a dog being an odd color for its breed such a tragedy? The dog is not suffering for being an odd color -- hell, the dog would not be suffering even if it actually were the result of an accidental mixed breeding! A double merle who is blind and deaf can be whored out to sire show champions and nobody bats an eye, but a perfectly healthy dog ends up being a pet-quality color instead of a show-quality one and they react with grief and horror?

      And I understand it's sick to inbreed dogs for color to capitalize on people's lust for the rare and exotic. Inbreeding for ANY reason is nasty stuff. But these assholes would have less of a market if mismarks weren't /made/ "rare" by their forced excusion from the mainstream breeders' gene pool.

    3. ...Yeah. Those are almost direct quotes too. It's pretty messed up. It's almost like doggie racism, really. And the people who purposefully produce double merles should really not be allowed to be part of the dog fancy. Things like that should not be encouraged, and letting breeders get away with it is as good as encouraging them to do it.

  7. A good dog is never a bad color. This breed standard stuff is just silliness. A purebred animal brings nothing to the table other than it costs more money to buy. It's too bad animals like dogs can't be judged on health and usefullness rather than mismarkings.

  8. The white chest patches and feet tips are no doubt a throw back gene from the old and now extinct St. Johns waterdog. These old lab dogs that i grew up with were imported to england in the early 1900's and were bred with other dogs to develope the now known english version of lab ,later came the american labrador and the new heavy version of the english labrador. Its too bad that the white would disqualify a dog in the show ring, it would be nice to see some of the true heritage of the st. johns water dog peering through into the modern breed.

    1. I have a perfect so called "mismatch" lab with full St. Johns white marks, he is yellow, from a pure breed parents and only him out of 13 came out with those marks that made me fall in love with him the minute I saw the pack waking up.
      I wanted a lab to love and always think how come such a pretty white marks are not being taken back by breeders, even as a new breed as some one did with the snowshoe cats. I believe people will love them!!

  9. It's too bad animals like dogs can't be judged on health and usefullness rather than mismarkings.

  10. This is something i have never ever read.very detailed analysis.

  11. Yes these Labrador are incredibly popular pet, and are also used for numerous working purposes, including hunting, tracking, and as service dogs.

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